Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden
Borne in the U.S.A.
American Hazelnut is a scruffy, willful shrub that is barely ornamental, even in bloom or fall color (red), but generous with nuts relished by a lot of creatures, including gardeners. The nuts of commerce are different. They come from species that grow as trees. Shrub or tree, all share kinship in the genus Corylus and their nuts share the same taste, firm texture, acorn shape, and lustrous, brown shells. I’ve eaten them straight from the husk or straight from a roasting tin (both good), but never ground into flour and mixed in muffins, though I’m curious. Have you made hazelnut flour?
Native to North America from North Dakota to Georgia, it grows on most soils and tolerates more moisture and shade than other deciduous shrubs (although it bears far more nuts in full sun). The nuts grow in clusters at the tips of the twigs, each clasped and almost hidden by two leathery bracts (modified leaves) that have frilled lips. The ensemble looks like a tattered chandelier. Male flowers are borne on almost-showy catkins and female flowers are inconspicuous.
The roots are thin and shallow, filling the top few inches of soil, and they like mulch. Meanwhile, below and among the roots, thick stems run in all directions and send up branches. One young plant soon becomes a thicket of stems and eventually a thicket of plants. There’s a bonus: you can dig up a stem and transplant it to start a new shrub identical to the parent. You can train a shrub to one stem with pruning (and patience) if you also remove new stems regularly. I wouldn’t. More stems means more nuts.
“Hazelnut” and “filbert” are common names that wander from plant to plant. Some gardeners and reference books say American filbert and others American hazelnut. Nonetheless, it’s the same shrub, Corylus americana.
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